The Influence of Fretless Guitar in Heavy Metal Music

Fretless guitar is very well suited to Heavy Metal music as there are many techniques and doom laden sounds that can be made on the fretless that just cannot be done on a standard guitar. Two surprising things are that many Heavy Metal guitarists have a fretless guitar in the armoury, and that many fretless guitarists have dipped their toes into Heavy Metal.

This video demo of a ESP EX with fretless glass fingerboard playing Heavy Metal:

Tom “Fountainhead” Geldschläger plays fretless 7 string on the title track from his forthcoming album “Reverse Engineering”.

The Artists

Tim Donahue

Tim’s music can be very peaceful and melodic so it was a bit of a surprise when he came up with a heavy metal album featuring singer James LaBrie (Dream Theatre) and drummer Mike Mangini. The guitar work on this album is staggeringly good. If you want to hear what can be done with a fretless guitar in a Metal context this has to be one of the best albums to listen to.

Tim Donahue, James LaBrie

Tim Donahue and James LaBrie

Tim continues to build on this album with his present live band “Madmen & Sinners” which premiers new music from Tim’s musical “The Cage”

Madmen & Sinners

Unfretted review of Madmen and Sinners

Ed DeGenaro

Ed’s repertoire of guitar styles is extensive, you’ll hear him playing everything from jazz to fusion and then clean picking. On this DVD he really shows off his Metal chops.

DVD Ed DeGenaro Live on Beale St

Ed DeGenaro Reviews


Lead guitarist of Japanese band “Luna Sea” has played fretless for many years, he has triple neck and double neck ESP PR guitars.

Sugizo triple neck fretless

Sugizo with ESP PR Triple neck guitar.

Sugizo’s famous fretless tracks are: 4 AM, Genesis of Mind and Loveless.

Ron Thal

Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, perhaps is more widely known for playing guitar with Guns and Roses, but he is a great fretless player in his own right and has his own Vigier Signature guitar, the DoubleBfoot, a twin necked fretless / fretted guitar.

Ron Thal Bumblefoot doubleneck
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 18: Guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal performs (L) and Keith Hejna perform at Big Kids Rock New York 2015: A Battle of the Bands to Benefit Little Kids Rock at Hard Rock Cafe, Times Square on June 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Little Kids Rock)

Ron Thal Music Reviews

Nicolas Meier

Better known for his solo albums, collaborations with Pete Oxley and playing in the Jeff Beck Band Nicolas has a dark secret, his Heavy Metal band Seven7. On the album “Under Eye” (2011) he also plays Oud and Baglama.

James Went

Now better known for his television appearances as a close-up magician, fretless guitarist James Went headed up the band “Ten Men Wide” he played on the Village of the Unfretted CD with his track “Matthew’s Got a Noisy Haircut”

James Went with Beer

Watch how quickly magician James Went can make this beer vanish.

James’ famous Jeremy Corbin card trick

Karl Sanders

Sanders plays a KxK Double-Neck V guitar which has an 11-string fretless on the top neck, this was used on many of the tracks on Nile’s album Ithyphallic. He also has a Glissentar.

Karl Sanders fretless doubleneck

You can hear this 11-string fretless on “Eat of the Dead,” “Ithyphallic,” and “Tribunal of the Dead” from the album “At the Gate of Seth”.

Tom Geldschläger

Guitarist Tom Geldschläger of the band Obscura is using a fretless guitar on their new album, Full Story.

Mattias IA Eklundh

Swedish metal guitarist Mattias of “Freak Kitchen” is perhaps best known for his Signature Apple Horn 8 string, designed by Itaru Kanno and made by Caparison Guitars. He also uses an Apple Horn Fretless which is kept in DADGAD tuning.

Mattias Eklund Fretless Guitar

Apple Horn Fretless (note Dean Martin Songbook on the music stand)

Mattias also hosts the Freak Guitar Camp every summer near Gothenburg, Sweden.

Peter Jerman

Peter built his custom fretless “peter.j Explorer” in 2004, it has a Gibson Ken Lawrence head and uses Jazz Chrome 79 Picato extra light gauge strings.

This is a short demo riff of a forthcoming song.

Daniel Gildenlöw

Daniel is the front man of Swedish progressive metal band Pain of Salvation, and has designed and very often used a signature guitar by Mayones guitar company – called Regius Elements Perfect.

Regius Elements Perfect Fretless


Archd’ikon Zibethicus

Hailing from Leura, Australia, Zibethicus’ music is more SF based than metal but he does make some amazing sounds on this guitar:

The Axe of Thoth

The Axe of Thoth – Archd’ikon Zibethicus completed de-twelve-ulation of this cheap Yamaha SG copy in July 2007

Pete Wilkinson

Pete AKA “Shredmoe” has two fretless Jacksons. Why two? Well we guess no self respecting gigging metal shredders would go on stage without a backup guitar and Pete is no exception.

Two jackson fretless guitars

Two Fretless Jacksons

Living in Burbank California Pete Wilkinson’s music has been described as rapid-fire picking, machine-gun axe work and brutal jackhammer guitar lines. No stranger to metal he has played with the bands Destroyer and Vindicator.


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2 thoughts on “The Influence of Fretless Guitar in Heavy Metal Music

  1. Hey! I am really interested in playing a fret less guitar! I was wondering if it was possible to take the frets off my electric guitar, and if I could put them back on if I chose I didn’t like it? I have a really cheap fender starter guitar. Thanks, and love the website!

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